Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

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Some things, like the DeLay Rule, are outrageous but not that surprising.

But what I'm about to describe is outrageous and almost literally unbelievable.

As you've probably heard, the congress is pushing through a big omnibus spending bill this weekend. And at the last minute, Republican leaders tried to slip in a provision that would give certain committee chairman and their staffers unlimited access to any American's tax return, with none of the standard privacy protections applying.

You heard that right.

They could pull anyone's tax return, read it over and do whatever they wanted with the information. Those who would have this power would be the chairs and ranking members of the senate and house appropriations committees and subcommittees and "their designees."

The key is that the privacy rights provisions, and criminal and civil penalties that go with them, don't apply for the appropriations committees.

At the last minute, Senate Democrats caught the language (keep in mind these omnibus bills can be like phone books), protested and the Republicans beat a hasty retreat. Some of it is discussed in this AP article at MSNBC, though they lamely call it a "tax-disclosure gaffe."

The Republicans are acting like it was all an innocent mistake. And it seems clear that there are Republican senators who didn't know anytihng about it and are pissed. But clearly this was no accident, unless provisions have started to write themselves.

More soon.

Late Update: Here is the text of the provision in question (emphasis added)

"Hereinafter, notwithstanding any other provision of law governing the disclosure of income tax returns or return information, upon written request of the Chairman of the House or Senate Committee on Appropriations, the Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service shall allow agents designated by such Chairman access to Internal Revenue Service facilities and any tax returns or return information contained therein."

Even Later Update: Apparently the provision was placed into the bill at the request of Rep. Istook of Oklahoma. Istook is chairman of the House Appropriations Transportation Subcommittee.

I'm not sure if it's relevant to what happened here, but the Treasury Department falls under the jurisdiction of Istook's subcommittee.

The anti-Ronnie Earle campaign is kicking off on the Texas Republican party website, along with a petition to strip Earle's office of jurisdiction over DeLay and Co.'s campaign finance and other in proper use of public office shenanigans.

Breaking the law has consequences. And Tom DeLay is going to do everything in his power to avoid them -- with the help of the House GOP caucus, the Republican party of Texas, and of course the DeLay Machine, which David Brooks rightly compares to the machine Boss Tweed ran in New York during the Gilded Age.

Breaking DeLay Rule newsflash out of Minnesota, from the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Like a scattering of papers around the country today (see below), the Star Tribune went down the list of their local GOP congressmen and put the question to them straight out: how'd you vote on the DeLay Rule.

As reported earlier on TPM, Jim Ramstad's in the Shays Handful voting against. Gil Gutknecht couldn't make it to the meeting but wants to be included in the Handful after the fact.

But Mark Kennedy and John Kline drawing a "private vote" line in the sand.

But in a hint at what Kline's private vote might have been, the congressman's chief of staff Steve Sutton says Kline is "perfectly comfortable with the compromise that's been reached."

New Jersey Flash Update!

The Asbury Park Press tracked down Congressmen LoBiondo, Saxton and Garrett and got them to admit they supported the DeLay Rule. Chris Smith told the paper he couldn't make the meeting and wouldn't say whether he was in the Handful or down with DeLay.

Ferguson and Frelinghuysen couldn't be reached; though Ferguson staffers have already conceded to TPM reader-constituents that he supported the DeLay Rule.

For Saxton it's a hard but rapid fall from 'private vote' to letter-writer to just coming clean.

Last night we brought you breaking news that the congresswoman from Rush Limbaugh's hometown of Cape Girardeau, Missouri, Jo Ann Emerson had hopped into the Shays Handful, coming out against the DeLay Rule.

But apparently not to the Bugman's face!

From this <$NoAd$> morning's update in the Southeast Missourian ...

The lawmakers, after hours of debate, adopted a revised rule that would require members of Congress to step down from leadership posts only if convicted of crimes.

"We debated that for three hours at least," Emerson said. The caucus was attended by more than 250 GOP lawmakers.

Emerson was out of the room when the vote was taken. The Southeast Missouri congresswoman said several lawmakers were out of the room when the party leadership suddenly called for a voice vote on the issue.

The 8th District lawmaker said she had stepped out of the room to meet briefly with Southeast Missouri civic leaders to discuss U.S. 67 road improvements.

"I was only out of the room for 10 minutes, maybe," she said.

When she returned, Emerson discovered that a voice vote had been taken.

While there wasn't a roll call vote, Emerson said that "at least a couple dozen" of her GOP House colleagues opposed the rule change.

The decision might have been different if the issue had been decided by secret ballot rather than voice vote, Emerson said.

She bugged out.

Bob Novak on the DeLay Rule .<$NoAd$>..

The closed-door meeting of House Republicans Wednesday that was supposed to quickly protect House Majority Leader Tom DeLay from a political indictment turned into a contentious debate lasting several hours. Rep. Rob Portman of Ohio, the appointed chairman of the House Republican Leadership, came up with a compromise that won assent.

The original proposal would have simply repealed the 1993 Republican rule requiring the resignation from the House party leadership of any member who is criminally indicted. The Portman compromise sets up a review by the House Republican Steering Committee of each case.

The change in the rule was inspired by the prospect that Democratic District Atty. Ronnie Earle in Austin, Texas, may soon indict DeLay in connection with his successful congressional redistricting in Texas. At Wednesday's conference, several Republican House members expressed fear that a straight repeal of the rule would send a bad political message.

I don't know who's on the House Republican Steering Committee in the next congress. But if I'm not mistaken, it's automatically chaired by the Speaker of the House, Denny Hastert, and comprised of members chosen by the leadership. And since Hastert works for DeLay (not on paper, but ...) and DeLay chooses who's on that committee, I doubt he's got too much to be worried about.

Michigan's Dave Camp voted for the DeLay Rule.

But he tells the local paper that he'd recommend dethroning any caucus leader indicted on a "legitimate charge" rather than the politically motivated type coming from the likes of DA Ronnie Earle.

Camp's statement came after the Midland Daily News asked Camp's spokesman for comment on the DeLay Rule and how Camp voted.

Tom DeLay, New Jersey's Mike Ferguson's got your back.

After a bit of hemming and hawing, Ferguson staffers have told a number of TPM reader-constituents that Ferguson voted for the DeLay Rule.

Maybe the $10,000 he got from DeLay's leadership PAC helped put the issue in a clearer light.

Late Update: Contrary to the number I noted above, the list of ARMPAC giving at the Campaign for America's Future (CAF) website lists Ferguson as the single biggest recipient of DeLay largesse in the entire congress -- clocking in at a whopping $42,403. You might say he got the largest largesse. Looking at the CAF chart, I'm not sure what explains the discrepancy between this number and that provided by the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP), which I listed above. The CRP number is for the 2004 giving cycle. So I assume the $42,403 includes the previous two cycles Ferguson ran in (2000 and 2002). In any case, no wonder Mike Ferguson's got DeLay's back. He's already in the guy's pocket so it's not far to travel.

It seems that Illinois Congressman Henry Hyde couldn't make it to the House GOP caucus meeting to vote up or down on the DeLay Rule. No definitive word yet on whether he supports the rule or not.

The same goes for California's Richard Pombo. Pombo staffers are telling constituents he couldn't make it to the meeting either. No one can find out if he has a position on the DeLay Rule.

Rush Limbaugh's hometown congresswoman coming out against the DeLay Rule?

The Southeast Missourian seems to be saying that Jo Ann Emerson is in the Shays Handful.

Here's the update they put up this evening ...

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay would retain his leadership post even if indicted by a Texas prosecutor under a GOP rule change opposed by a minority of Republicans, including U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson of Cape Girardeau.

"I think that it sets a bad example," Emerson said today from Capitol Hill. "I just don't think that it passes the smell test."

For more on this story, read Saturday's Southeast Missourian.

We'll stand by for the big news in <$NoAd$> tomorrow's paper.